'Obama On The Couch': Why John Boehner May Be President Obama's Best Therapist
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama might actually learn how to fight back against Republicans if he faced the repressed anger he feels toward his parents for abandoning him, according to a controversial new book by nationally known psychiatrist Dr. Justin Frank.
In his latest book, "Obama on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President," Frank, a clinical professor of psychiatry at George Washington University Medical Center, offers his armchair analysis in attempting to answer one of the most common questions about Obama's transformation over the past three years: What happened to that idealistic, inspiring guy from 2008 who ended up compromising so much as president?
The answer is that he became deeply anxious when he assumed the responsibilities of the presidency, Frank told The Huffington Post in an interview, and instead of facing it, he retreated to the most familiar place of his psyche, which is a place desperately rooted in the need to accommodate others.
Frank, who previously authored The New York Times bestseller "Bush On the Couch," spent nearly two years studying Obama's memoirs, speeches and general public demeanor as part of his effort to give insight into who the president really is, something he said many people want to know. He acknowledged he has been accused by some of being unethical for analyzing a sitting public official, but he made the case that people analyze public figures all the time and that his analysis is sound.
"I'm not doing some crackpot thing of filling out a questionnaire and saying he's not stable," he said. "It's in-depth."
Unlike what he concluded in his previous book -- that former President George W. Bush is a "disturbed" megalomaniac -- Frank says he found Obama to be highly functioning and mentally sound.
But he also says Obama struggles with what he calls "obsessive bipartisan disorder": a deep-seated need to unify the people around him, which stems from a childhood marred by broken families, men who were not fathers and his need to make sense of being biracial while being raised by white grandparents. The effect of those experiences plays out right before our eyes, Frank said, in the way Obama has tried to avoid conflict with Republicans while coming down hard on his own party.
At the heart of who Obama is today is a boy still dealing with unresolved rage toward his mother, who he simultaneously depended on and felt abandoned by as she frequently left him with his grandparents while she traveled, Frank says. On top of that, he continues, Obama was increasingly angry with himself for relying on his mother while also being incredibly critical of her.
"What do you do with rage at your primary caregiver?" Frank asked. "Being angry at the person you not only love but the person you need to depend on is very hard."
Frank maintains that dynamic has played itself out time and time again during Obama's presidency, when he has directed anger at people who are not a threat. For example, he said, take the comments Obama made last month at an event hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus, arguably the president's most loyal base. Obama told the group to "quit complaining" and "take off your bedroom slippers" and instead get behind him in his push for congressional action on jobs.
His words angered CBC members, namely Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who called Obama's language "a bit curious" and said he never spoke to other groups in such a blunt manner.
"He was essentially doing what his mother did to the little Barry part of him," Frank said, referring to Obama's mother frequently telling him not to complain. "He is taking his anger out on anybody who's weak because it reminds him of his own weaknesses that he's disavowing, which is the weakness of a little boy who needs their mommy. So he gets angry at them for needing him and he confuses their needing him with their attacking him."
Frank points to a scene in Obama's book, "Dreams From My Father," to further illustrate this dynamic. A 9-year-old Obama discovers a disturbing picture in a magazine that shows a black man trying to change his skin color. Obama describes his skin getting hot as he feels angry over what he is seeing, and in this moment Frank said Obama starts to learn about the concept of someone hating their own skin color. But instead of acting on his initial impulse, which he said was to run to tell his mother about it, he put the magazines back in place and acted as if nothing happened when he saw her.
"Why? He wants to be calm but has been told over and over and over again to be a big boy, which is what he's telling the CBC," Frank said. "It is his rage at the needy part of himself, which he then attacks, like the CBC."
Frank said the other source of Obama's subconscious rage is related to his father, who Obama only met for one month when he was 10 years old. Frank said Obama plays out the anger he feels toward his father in the way he approaches conflict with Republicans: by accommodating the people who he sees as the most dangerous.
"The abandoner is John Boehner," Frank said of the GOP House Speaker. "Republicans are these people who are saying, 'We're Americans too but to hell with you. We're not going to work with you.' So that's all about his father."
Ironically, Frank said he believes Obama can overcome his demons by continuing to try to work with Republicans who won't work with him.
"John Boehner is Obama's ideal therapist," Frank said. "Republicans can knock some sense into him by making it clear they're not really interested in working with him. They've been saying it for years but he refuses to accept it. That has to do with his inner wish to heal."
Frank said Obama has even shown signs that he is already starting to deal with his old anger. During a recent trip to Texas, he called out House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) by name and demanded that the GOP leader explain to the public why he refuses to bring Obama's jobs package to a House vote.
"Naming the negative forces instead of a speaking in general terms is a way to begin to define who is against you," Frank added. "I do think he's capable of learning from his experiences. I never thought Bush was."